How do we communicate? How do customers process information? There are many models and theories. Let’s take a brief look at some of them.
Simple communications models show a sender sending a message to a receiver who receives and understands it. Real-life is less simple – many messages are misunderstood, fail to arrive or, are simply ignored.
A thorough understanding of the audience’s needs, emotions, interests and activities is essential to ensure the accuracy and relevance of any message.
Instead of loud ‘buy now’ advertisements, many messages are often designed or ‘encoded’ so that the hard sell becomes a more subtle soft sell. The sender creates or encodes the message in a form that can be easily understood or decoded by the receiver.
Clever encoding also helps a message to cut through the clutter of other advertisements and distractions, what is called ‘noise’. If successful, the audience will spot the message and then decode or interpret it correctly. The marketer then looks for ‘feedback’ such as coupons returned from mailshots, to see if the audience has decoded the message correctly.
The single-step model – with a receiver getting a message directly from a sender – is not a complete explanation.
Many messages are received indirectly through a friend or through an opinion leader.
Communications are in fact multifaceted, multi-step and multi-directional. Opinion leaders talk to each other. Customers talk to opinion leaders and they talk to each other.
Add in ‘encode, decode, noise and feedback’ and the process appears more complex still.
Understanding multiphase communications helps marketers communicate directly through mass media and indirectly through targeting opinion leaders, opinion formers, style leaders, innovators, and other influential people.
How messages are selected and processed within the minds of the target market is a vast and complex question. Although it is over seventy years old, rather simplistic and too hierarchical, a message model, like AIDA, attempts to map the mental processes through which a buyer passes en route to making a purchase.
There are many other models that attempt to identify each stage. In reality the process is not always a linear sequence. Buyers often loop backwards at various stages perhaps for more information. There are other much more complex models that attempt to map the inner workings of the mind.
In reality, marketers have to select communications tools that are most suitable for the stage which the target audience has reached. For example, advertising may be very good at raising awareness or developing interest, while free samples and sales promotions may be the way to generate trial. This is just a glimpse into some of the theory. Serious marketers read a lot more.